Copyright © 2016 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved
Comparisons between any modern-day political figure and Adolf Hitler have become decidedly unfashionable. Michael Lind pote Politico post from March 8 called “Quit Comparing Trump to Hitler!” (http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2016/03/trump-hitler-comparisons-213711) that essentially said people who did that were making Trump seem decidedly worse than he really is. Like others who have questioned the validity of any comparison between the New York developer and the Nazi Führer, Lind trotted out George Orwell’s quote from 1946 — just after his native Britain and its allies had beaten the real Nazis at a terrible cost in blood and wealth — that “the word ‘fascism’ has now no meaning except in so far as it signifies ‘something not desirable’.” (By the early 1950’s that would be true, at least in the U.S., of “socialism” as well.)
Hitler comparisons are designed not to facilitate rational debate, but to short-circuit it. Anyone who compares a political opponent to Hitler is saying that this person is so evil we can’t even afford to take their ideas seriously, much less let them anywhere near political power. So I don’t make the comparison lightly, but after watching a good deal of the Republican convention in Cleveland July 18-21 I couldn’t help but be reminded of Leni Riefenstahl’s film Triumph of the Will. Made in 1934 at the Sixth Nazi Party Congress in Nuremberg, Germany, Triumph of the Will is one of the two greatest Right-wing propaganda films ever made (D. W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation from 1915 is the other) and a movie that still chills today not only because it was made under Nazi auspices but because it shows them as they wanted us to see them.
Riefenstahl was relatively uninterested in what the Nazis actually had to say. What attracted her to them was they had promised to end the destructive partisan feuding and street violence that had sandbagged Germany’s previous attempt at democracy, the Weimar Republic of 1918-1932. Throughout her film she surrounds Hitler with a godlike aura as thousands of young men, marching in strict formation and looking as much alike as possible, pay tribute to him en masse. Like many of Hitler’s supporters, she responded to his portrayal of himself as “a man of destiny,” an embodiment of Germany’s “racial will” and someone uniquely suited to overcome the humiliation of losing World War I and having the “hard peace” of Versailles imposed on it. Though he may not have used these exact words, virtually every piece of rhetoric out of Hitler’s mouth was a promise to end the influence of Jews and others he considered evil, and single-handedly “make Germany great again.”
What I saw during the Republican convention seemed in many particulars — especially when Trump was giving his 78-minute acceptance speech and the hall, half full at best on previous nights, was packed — like a remake of Triumph of the Will. Of course, there were obvious differences. The C-SPAN cameras were being positioned by functional directors instead of a visionary filmmaking genius like Riefenstahl. We were also seeing the event in real time instead of two years later (Triumph of the Will, filmed in 1934, wasn’t released until 1936 because Riefenstahl spent that long on post-production).
But what we were seeing — and, even more, what we were hearing, especially from the seemingly endless procession of speakers named Trump, not only the man himself but virtually all his adult children — sounded themes that were totalitarian in general and Nazi in particular, notably the cult of personality consciously being built around Trump and the sense that he, personally — not anything he stood for or said he would do — was being presented as America’s one and only chance for salvation. As Trump himself said, during a speech that was mostly a description of hell on earth and a presentation of him as the only person who can bring it salvation, “I alone can fix it.”
While Left-wing dictators — Lenin, Stalin, Mao, Castro, Chávez — have also built cults of personality around themselves, it is the Right’s totalitarians who have presented themselves as literally the embodiment of the state they intend to govern. This goes back even farther than King Louis XIV of France, who famously said, “L’etat, c’est moi” — “I am the state.” As German scholar Michael Rademacher argues in an essay comparing the Nazis to the fictitious state of Oceania in George Orwell’s novel 1984 (http://www.verwaltungsgeschichte.de/hitler.html), “Hitler was not only presented by Nazi propaganda as a ‘savior,’ from reading [Hitler’s book] Mein Kampf one can get the impression that Hitler indeed thought of himself as a Christ-like savior figure.”
It’s this overlay of quasi-religious belief and fervor that marks the Right-wing dictator and sets him (and it’s almost always a him, not a her) apart from totalitarians of the Left. In his convention speech, again and again Donald Trump presented himself as a unique authority figure, one whom the universe had brought into being because his country was so beset by existential crises only someone with his unique set of powers and gifts can make things right. As Carl Martz of Redlands mentioned in a letter published in the July 23 Los Angeles Times (http://www.latimes.com/opinion/readersreact/la-ol-le-donald-trump-speech-readers-20160723-snap-story.html), “There was one glaring omission in Trump’s speech: He never mentioned Congress.”
Ironically, given how many of the other speakers at the Republican convention condemned President Obama for governing by executive order instead of asking Congress to approve his actions, Trump presented his presidency as a sort of plebiscitary dictatorship in which, once elected, he can do just about anything he likes. Trump offered himself to the nation not as a democratically elected leader, subject to the limitations of a Constitution of which Trump is so ignorant he doesn’t know how many articles it has, but as a Führer. As Martz put it, “He seemed to view American government as consisting of the president with unlimited powers and Supreme Court justices whom he will control. Congress? Democrats? Compromise? Filibusters? It’s as if they do not exist.”
And the cult of personality Trump has created around himself is echoed in the way his most loyal, committed supporters feel about him. In a June 21 Los Angeles Times article called “The Church of Trump” (http://www.latimes.com/opinion/op-ed/la-oe-manseau-trump-religious-movement-20160621-snap-story.html), Peter Manseau argued, “The appeal of Trumpism for some Christians, as well as for many who claim no faith at all, might be that it functions as something like a religion in its own right. Indeed, if we consider his movement as fundamentally religious, in the broad sense of the term, rather than strictly political, his otherwise surprising success begins to make a lot of sense.”
Manseau cited French philosopher and sociologist Émile Durkheim (1857-1917), who preceded both Hitler’s and Trump’s movements but predicted a lot about them and their faith-based appeals. Durkheim argued that religion, in the broader sense, was a system of beliefs and practices that united a community by bringing it a sense of “collective effervescence” which “often reaches such a point that it causes unheard-of actions. … The passions released are of such an impetuosity that they can be restrained by nothing.”
“That Trump sees the world starkly in terms of winners and losers has become shorthand for his simplistic thinking, but as he uses these terms they also map neatly onto Durkheim’s categories,” Manseau argued. “He gives his followers access to the sacred — winning — while offering protection from the profane influence of Muslims, Mexicans and low-energy losers.” And though Manseau carefully avoided making the Hitler-Trump comparison, giving his followers “access to the sacred — winning” was what Hitler did, too.
As Hitler himself put it, “The greatness of every mighty organization embodying an idea in this world lies in the religious fanaticism and intolerance with which, fanatically convinced of its own right, it intolerantly imposes its will against all others.” And like Trump’s, Hitler’s drama had not only its hero — himself — but also its villains from whose “profane influence” he would offer his followers protection: Communists, Gypsies, Queers and, above all, Jews.
Hillary Clinton as the Wicked Witch
Besides such broad scapegoat groups as Muslims, Mexicans and “low-energy losers,” Trump’s convention offered the faithful a Satan figure in the person of his principal political opponent, Hillary Rodham Clinton. It’s indicative of how much the appeal of this year’s Republican party is fascistic rather than democratic in nature that the speakers seemed to spend more time demonizing Hillary Clinton than praising Donald Trump. More than one commentator on the convention noted that the only people who seemed to be saying positive things about Trump — not just negative things about Clinton — were Trump’s kids.
And what’s more, just as the arguments for Trump at the convention were framed not in terms of anything he would do about specific issues facing the U.S. but on the sheer force of his personality, so were the arguments against Clinton. They were less about what she would do as President than about who she is. Part of this was just smart politics — the polls about Clinton show that a majority of Americans regard her as competent but an even larger majority simply don’t trust her — but it seems also an inextricable part of the heroic mythos with which Trump is surrounding himself that his villain, too, must be larger than life. Just as Beowulf needed Grendel, St. George needed the dragon, Siegfried needed Fafner, Frodo Baggins needed Sauron and Saruman and Luke Skywalker needed Darth Vader, so Trump the avenging hero, the redeemer, needs to imbue his villain with equally far-reaching power so his final triumph over her will have the mythic power it needs to justify setting aside American republican democracy and replacing it with the Rule of Trump.
In Hillary Clinton, Trump has lucked out big-time. Both she and her husband have been hate objects for America’s Right for so long Trump and his surrogates don’t have to do much bell-ringing to get the rank-and-file of the Republican Party to drool over the prospect of her vanquishment. I’ve pointed out several times before in these pages that the American Right once literally depicted Hillary as a witch (a crude caricature of her looking like the stereotypical wicked witch used to adorn the subscription solicitations of the American Spectator magazine). More recently, at the Republican convention Ben Carson, one of Trump’s former opponents, accused Hillary Clinton of being in league with Lucifer (a.k.a. Satan, a.k.a. the Devil) because she’d written her 1969 college thesis on community organizer Saul Alinsky, and in 1971 (two years after Hillary wrote about him) Alinsky published the book Rules for Radicals in which he wrote, “The first radical known to man who rebelled against the establishment and did it so effectively that he at least won his own kingdom — Lucifer.”
Hillary is hated by the Trump faithful both for who she is and what she’s done. Who she is: an independent woman who made her own career and was so uninterested in being an appendage to her husband that for a time she tried to establish herself under her original last name, Rodham, instead of using his. A woman who came to the White House with her husband, was given control over his health-care reform program (“Before it was called Obamacare, it was called Hillarycare,” she said over and over during the Democratic primary debates, thereby associating herself with an earlier, failed attempt to accomplish what’s probably the most viscerally hated program of Obama’s administration), and who after Bill Clinton left office ran for Senator from New York, then got appointed Secretary of State and tried to encroach on the all-male preserve of the Presidency … twice.
And what she’s done: instead of questioning her on policy issues or her ties to Wall Street, the case against Hillary Clinton at the Republican convention was based on a foul stew of conspiracy theories the Right has been cooking since her husband’s presidency: the “murder” of Vincent Foster, her alleged “enabling” of her husband’s adulteries, the attack on the U.S. embassy in Benghazi, Libya and, above all, the e-mails. One of the lowest points of the convention was when the widow of one of the four diplomats killed at Benghazi said, “Hillary Clinton, how could you do this to my husband?” — as if Hillary had pulled a gun on him and shot him herself.
As for the e-mails, like Clinton’s principal rival for the Democratic nomination, Bernie Sanders, I’m sick and tired of hearing about Hillary Clinton’s e-mails. Trump raised a legitimate point against her when he pointed out in his speech that before she turned over 30,000 e-mails she’d sent with her private server while U.S. Secretary of State, she and her staff unilaterally deleted 33,000 of them on the ground that they were “personal,” with no independent third-party verification of whether they were actually personal or whether some of them may have contained government information.
And I think FBI director James Comey got it right on both counts when he announced that he was not going to seek an indictment against her but her handling of classified information had been “extremely careless.” Those are words a more responsible Republican Party could legitimately use to undermine one of Hillary’s principal arguments for herself: that because of her long record of government service as well as her previous status as First Lady she’s well prepared for the Presidency and would be far more competent in the office than her opponent.
But this year’s Republican Party — and this is one respect in which the Trumpified Republicans of this year are not fundamentally different from the Republicans of the last quarter-century — is not inclined to make rational arguments about much of anything, especially about the Clintons. The Republicans have regarded Bill and Hillary Clinton as founts of political evil ever since Bill emerged as a Presidential contender in the early 1990’s. David Brock, former Right-wing hatchet man who now runs a pro-Hillary super-PAC, wrote in his book Blinded by the Right that “when Hillary Clinton said there was a vast Right-wing conspiracy to get her and her husband, I knew she was right — because I was part of it.”
The American Spectator magazine — the one that was drumming up subscriptions by sending out mailings adorned with a picture of Hillary as a witch — was funded by a multi-millionaire named Richard Mellon Scaife who also underwrote something called “The Arkansas Project.” This was an attempt to dig up as much dirt on the Clintons as possible, and in practice it uncovered just about everyone in Arkansas who had a grudge against the Clintons and had some derogatory information about them — or, if they didn’t, were willing to make some up.
The result was to make Bill Clinton only the second U.S. President in history to be impeached by the House of Representatives and put on trial in the Senate. The first, Andrew Johnson, was impeached and tried in 1868 for reasons that at least made logical sense: he had done his damnedest to sabotage Congressional Reconstruction and keep African-Americans as virtual slaves. The best they could come up with against Bill Clinton was that he’d had sex with a White House aide and had ham-handedly and ineptly lied about it.
The venom with which Hillary Clinton was attacked at this year’s Republican convention — not only the chants of “Lock her up!” but the preposterous “indictment” read against her by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie (who, as a former prosecutor, should know better) and the call-and-response cries of “Guilty!” he got from his audience — makes it seem virtually certain that if she’s elected she will be the third President who will be impeached. And if she isn’t elected, Donald Trump will move heaven and earth to make sure she’s indicted for the e-mails and whatever else he can dream up, no matter how much violence he has to do to the Constitution and its guarantees of due process and the presumption of innocence to put her behind bars.
White Restoration: Trump’s Deeper Racism and Sexism
Donald Trump has often been called racist and sexist, but most people who’ve used those terms for him have focused only on the most superficial manifestations of those attitudes. His now-infamous statement that undocumented Mexican immigrants were “bringing drugs, they’re bringing crime, they’re rapists” got him slammed by progressive activists and the mainstream media — which, paradoxically, only fed his supporters’ image of him as a man who can be counted out to tell the “truth,” however much it may be “politically incorrect.” So did his attack on Megyn Kelly of Fox News, who in one debate asked Trump about insulting statements he’s made about women and ended up on the receiving end of a Trump insult directed against her as a woman: that she had “blood coming out of her eyes, or her wherever.” (One would think a man who’s had three wives and five children wouldn’t be so appallingly ignorant about how women’s bodies work.)
But Trump’s superficial attacks on women, people of color, people with disabilities and others he considers “weak” are just the tip of the iceberg. It’s revealing that before he ran for President in 2016 his principal political effort was promoting the so-called “Birther” myth that President Obama was born not in Hawai’i but in Kenya, and was therefore ineligible for the presidency under the constitutional requirement that the President be “a natural born Citizen.” More recently, he’s referred to the judge in the case against Trump University, Gonzalo Curiel, as “a Mexican” and said that by that fact alone he is incapable of presiding over the case impartially (though he hasn’t asked his attorneys to file a motion to disqualify the judge for cause), and he referred to the alleged shooter in Orlando, Florida, Omar Mateen, as “an Afghan” — even though both Curiel and Mateen were born in the U.S. and it was their parents who came here from Mexico and Afghanistan, respectively.
What that suggests is that Donald J. Trump, in his heart of hearts, simply does not believe that people of color can ever be real Americans. He’s added a mental footnote to the Constitution that says only white people can be true, first-class citizens. His attitude would move the U.S. away from its historic position that you gain American citizenship through coming here, working hard and joining the American community. Instead Trump’s ideas would impose a “blood citizenship” requirement similar to that which bedevils Trump’s own ancestral homeland, Germany, where immigrants from Turkey and elsewhere whose families have been in Germany for generations can’t become German citizens — while people of German ancestry whose families haven’t seen German soil in decades can become instant “Germans” just by moving there and establishing residency.
Trump’s racism is deeper than most people realize, and it’s fitted him to become what he is in the upcoming election: the candidate of white male restoration. So is his sexism: his defense against the charge that he hates women is to point to the women who are in positions of power in his business organization. This suggests that Trump has use for women only if they fit one of two categories: either they can make him richer, in which case he hires them to do just that; or he would want to have sex with them, and they with him, in which case he … well, he used to boast of his prowess as a cocksman and an impressive list of “conquests,” until it dawned even through his thick skull that a man who publicly boasted of his adulteries just might have a hard time being taken seriously by the self-proclaimed party of “family values.”
I vividly remember when the Republican Party regained control of the U.S. House of Representatives in the 2010 election, and the sense of relief many Republican officials showed when interviewed by the media. They had been forced for the previous four years to see the “People’s House” governed by a woman, Nancy Pelosi, Democrat from San Francisco, and there was a sense among Republicans not only that they had regained the House majority but that the proper order of the universe would be restored when a white male, John Boehner, got the usurping Pelosi out of there and took his place at the head of the House. Likewise, if Trump wins, a lot of his supporters and Republicans in general will feel that the proper order of the universe has been restored by having a white man in the White House instead of that, ugh, whatever Obama was.
And if Trump loses, their sense of grievance will only be intensified by seeing the Black man step out of the Oval Office … and a woman replace him. It’s not just that Hillary is a Clinton, wife of one of the most thoroughly demonized Presidents in U.S. history and herself such a long-term target of abuse that after this year’s Republican convention a 20-year-old article called “Hating Hillary” got so many hits it soared to the top of the New Yorker’s Web site. It’s the mere fact of her femaleness.
The root of Donald Trump’s support lies among white men, and in particular working-class white men who didn’t go to college because, when they came of age, they didn’t need to. Many of them had decent-paying blue-collar jobs available to them, often in company towns where once you were out of high school, you could stop at the employment office on Friday and be told, “You start Monday.” Ironically, given their former holders’ current politics, those decent-paying blue-collar jobs existed because of decades of progressive organizing that had won those workers union representation, minimum wages, laws to protect their health and safety, relatively high wages and good benefits, including health coverage.
For about 25 years of American history, between the end of World War II and the recession of the early 1970’s, a relative degree of labor peace existed in the U.S. Many large corporations were run by people who grudgingly realized that capitalism could be a win-win-win situation: companies made quality products and paid their workers enough to be able to afford them; consumers had access to reliable, durable goods; and investors profited through keeping their stock in healthy companies and reaping their rewards as dividend payments.
Then attitudes hardened, especially among the 1 percent. In the early 1970’s corporate leaders got the idea that they had been short-changed in the economic transformations wrought by the 1930’s Depression and World War II. Also a new school of economists, headed by Milton Friedman of the University of Chicago, proclaimed that “maximizing shareholder value” was the sole purpose of corporate governance, and any suggestion that executives had responsibilities to anyone else — their workers, their consumers, their communities — was “socialism.”
At the same time capitalism was evolving the way Karl Marx said it would; as it became harder to maintain the same level of profits, companies responded by merging. Fewer companies meant less competition — less of the “invisible hand” that was supposed to keep capitalism honest — and it also led to a bewildering maze of holding companies and hedge funds that bought large corporations and used them essentially as gambling chips.
If they could make money by keeping the businesses going and the workers employed, they would. If they could make even more money by closing down U.S. factories and relocating them overseas where wages were a fraction of what American workers expected — and there was no government-required nonsense about protecting workers’ health and safety, or maintaining the environment — they’d do that, too. If the all-important maximization of shareholder value meant closing down huge businesses and selling the remains piece by piece, they’d do that, too.
American workers found themselves in a bind not that different from the one German workers had been put in by the economy-destroying reparations payments imposed on Germany by the victorious Allies in World War I and the destructive policies the German government pursued to keep their economy going — including the horrendous hyperinflation of 1922-23. They were told over and over that they couldn’t expect to live as well as they once had, and their children couldn’t expect to live as well as their parents had. And, by the German Right in general and the Nazis in particular, they were told who they could blame for that.
The Jews. Jewish capitalists had, Nazi propagandists said, wantonly destroyed the German economy. Jewish Communists had fomented phony revolutions to make the plight of the workers even worse. If anybody asked a Nazi how the Jews could be both the capitalists and the Communists who were ostensibly their sworn enemies, the Nazi would say, “They’re Jews. They destroy things. That’s what they do.” The Nazis not only sold this bill of goods to the German people, they believed in it themselves enough that they set out to rid the world of Jews, continuing the Holocaust even when the resources expended on killing Jews hurt the German war effort and contributed to their ultimate defeat in World War II.
It doesn’t take much analytical skill to perceive the similarities between the way Adolf Hitler talked about the Jews and the way Donald Trump talks about Mexicans and Muslims. And Trump has one advantage over Hitler. Whereas Hitler’s people had to fake the “Jewish atrocities” that supposedly justified the Holocaust, Trump can point to real people all over the world — in New York and Washington, D.C. on 9/11; in Boston, San Bernardino, Orlando, Paris, Nice, Munich — who have been murdered in cold blood by terrorists proclaiming themselves as agents of Islam.
Hence the apocalyptic fervor with which Trump spoke to the Republican convention on July 21. Hence the grimness on his face as he delivered his speech and the fierce scowl which he interrupted just to the minimum degree necessary to be able to talk at all. In the August 2016 Harper’s (http://harpers.org/archive/2016/08/don-the-realtor/), Martin Amis published a comparative review of Trump’s first book, The Art of the Deal (co-written with Tony Schwartz, who gave an interview to The New Yorker about the experience: see http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2016/07/25/donald-trumps-ghostwriter-tells-all), and his latest, Crippled America: How to Make America Great Again, which revealed that the grim, non-smiling countenance of Trump’s face was no accident. As Amis put it:
“Some readers,” writes Trump sternly in his opening sentence, “may be wondering why the picture we used on the cover of this book is so angry and so mean looking.” Only the other day, he “had some beautiful pictures taken” — pictures like the one that bedizens The Art of the Deal — in which he “looked like a very nice person”; and Trump’s family implored him to pick one of those. But no. He wanted to look like a very sour person to reflect the “anger and unhappiness that I feel.”
So Donald Trump offered himself to America on July 21 as the righteous spokesperson for an America — especially non-rich white male working-class America — that has seen its economic position systematically destroyed by the country’s de-industrialization and its social position ridiculed by decades of Left-leaning propaganda in academe and the mainstream media that its attitudes towards women and people of color are “politically incorrect.” He came across as the scourge of all the forces that are tormenting the decent working-class white men who built this country, and — without specifics — said that he alone, by the sheer force of his personality and will, could make it all better for them.
At times he came off like an Old Testament prophet issuing scathing attacks on the “Establishment” of their day. At other times, especially when he started talking about Mexicans and Muslims, he sounded like Adolf Hitler. At still other times — most noticeably when he started making weird little gestures to ask the crowd to stop cheering or chanting so he could continue his speech — he looked less like the real Hitler than like Charlie Chaplin’s parody, “Adenoid Hynkel, the Fuhi of Tomania,” in his 1940 film The Great Dictator. In the middle of Trump’s most blatantly racist tirade of his entire speech, my husband Charles remembered the scene in The Great Dictator in which the microphones themselves recoil at the ferocity of Hynkel’s blast — and the urbane-voiced official translator who’s rendering Chaplin’s vaudeville-German double-speak in English politely says, “The Fuhi has just made reference to the Jewish people.”
Perhaps the most interesting part of Trump’s 78-minute speech was the way it ended. Somebody on his staff must have told him it couldn’t be all gloom-and-doom. Someone remembered how Ronald Reagan in 1980 had ended his big convention speech with soaring rhetoric about America being a “shining city on the hill” whose best days were ahead of it, not behind it. The end of Trump’s speech contained a few phrases that apparently were intended to create a similar sense of uplift — but his heart wasn’t in it. Every time his script gave him something more or less optimistic, he immediately undercut it with yet another jab at Hillary Clinton or the Democrats in general or just about anybody from the long, long list of people he doesn’t like.
And Trump’s far greater comfort with the role of attack dog than inspirer-in-chief came roaring back the next day, when he responded to Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas), the last man standing in the primary battle against him, who had said in his own convention speech July 20 that Republicans should “vote your conscience” and concentrate on winning the down-ballot elections for Senate, House and state government. Trump not only said he wouldn’t accept Cruz’s endorsement if Cruz offered it, he renewed one of his most scurrilous attacks on Cruz from the primary campaign, suggesting that Cruz’s father had known Lee Harvey Oswald, President Kennedy’s alleged assassin. His source was a photo published in the National Enquirer — and Trump got in yet another insult against legitimate journalists, one of his favorite targets, saying that the Enquirer should be winning Pulitzer Prizes for its exposés.
It’s easy to write Donald Trump off as a pathetic buffoon — but then a lot of German liberals and progressives in the 1920’s and early 1930’s who should have known better wrote off Adolf Hitler as a buffoon, too. Trump is not Hitler; despite some similarities — the egomania, the racism, the warmongering and the bizarre fanaticism they’ve been able to induce in their followers — a Trump-governed America would look a lot different from Hitler-governed Germany. But Trump has shown an astonishing instinct for “reading” the mood of white working-class male America and getting millions of people who’ve been reinforced in their bigotry and prejudice by talk radio and Fox News to put him at the edge of winning a Presidential election.
After his convention speech the sound system at the Republican convention played three really peculiar song choices: Free’s “All Right Now,” the Rolling Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” and Elton John’s “I’m Still Standing.” After a convention whose theme had been “Make America Great Again,” it seemed odd — to say the least — that all the songs were by British bands, and that “All Right Now” was a song about a sexual pickup and “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” (one of my all-time favorite Stones songs because of its world-weariness) a song whose moral is, “You can’t always get what you want/But if you try sometime, you just might find/You get what you need.” Was Donald Trump trying to tell us that Hillary Clinton was who we wanted but he was what we needed?
When Barack Obama was nominated for President by the Democrats in 2008, the slogan his crowds chanted was, “¡Si se puede!” — “Yes, we can!” When Donald Trump was nominated by the Republicans eight years later, their slogan was not “Yes, we can!” but “Yes, he will!” Likewise when Ronald Reagan used the phrase “make America great again” in his 1980 campaign, he prefaced it with “Let’s” — implying, as Obama did, that the task of bringing America the change it was seeking was everybody’s, not just his. But Trump’s slogans say he will do it all. What we’re being called on to do is simply to stand on the sidelines and not get in his way as he personally, through the sheer force and triumph of his will, makes America whatever he means by “great again.”